Another summer Olympics has come-and-gone. These were good ones, I think, although if you’re a loyal reader of the blog and this was your only connection to the games, you wouldn’t know it. In both 2004 and 2008, I wrote extensively throughout the games. This time around, for a variety of reasons, I didn’t do any immediate posts after important events. Instead, I kept a running file where I jotted down little notes as they occurred to me. With the games over, I’ll work through the list and see what happens.
Thus begins my epic 2012 London Summer Olympics review.
Week one brought swimming, and some kick-ass American women along with the over-hyped but still excellent Ryan Lochte and the end of the Michael Phelps experience. A pretty good week in the pool for the Americans all around.
Perhaps my favorite moment of the swimming coverage were the obligatory looks back at the men’s 4×100 relay over the years. Along with Lezak’s epic effort in Beijing, there was the footage of the Australians beating the US in Sydney after Gary Hall, Jr. had said the US would smash the Aussies like guitars. What followed was the classic image of the Aussies playing air guitars to show they were unbroken. What I love about that moment, and what I don’t think anyone ever talks about when the tape gets replayed, is the sly look of appreciation from Hall. He was a master shit-talker and while he was frustrated losing, you could see in the twinkle in his eye and quick grin that he approved of Australia’s behavior.
Speaking of Hall, why don’t more swimmers wear boxing robes and championship belts to meets anymore? Don’t get me wrong, I love the mutual respect sphere that flows around Michael Phelps. It was cool seeing him offer congratulations to Ian Thorpe in 2000 and Chad le Clos this year. But having a few real assholes, not just kind of slimy guys like Lochte, around makes for great TV.
The Phelps era has been terrific. Missy Franklin seems poised to carry on his era on the women’s side. But it is a little frustrating to watch NBC heap enormous amounts of hype on the swimmers they think will have the best games. Phelps could operate under that hype, and amazingly lived up to it. But in the opening days of these games, there were rumbles that he was having a disappointing meet. Then, when Lochte faded a bit, suddenly he was a disappointment. Which is dumb. They both had tremendous Olympics. Perhaps they didn’t snatch every Gold NBC wanted them to, but they outperformed nearly every other male swimmer.
What ever happened to German swimmers? Didn’t both East and West Germany used to be pretty good in the water? Did unification somehow make them allergic to chlorine?
I get that she had a huge jump in time over the past 18 months, but why is it assumed the 16-year-old Chinese swimmer who kicked ass is doping but neither Missy Franklin or Katie Ledecky are? It’s not like no Americans have ever tested positive, although they’ve tended to be older ones. Hey, the Chinese are probably dirty, but if a 16-year-old raises questions when she swims nearly as fast as a man, shouldn’t a 15-year-old who destroys a field that included the world record holder be held to the same level of scrutiny?
Why did Bob Costas need such a large studio? That thing looked like a World War II era airplane hanger, yet there was just him and his desk, with his little interview nook off to the side. I guess real estate is cheap in London-town.
I’m not a huge gymnastics fan, but I must admit, the women’s competition was fun. And not just because the US took the team gold with Gabby Douglas netting the all-around gold. That McKayla Maroney is something else on the vault. It’s not as much fun to hate the Russians as it was 30 years ago, but it’s still kind of fun to watch them crack under the pressure. I also enjoy the absurdity of gymnastics. Catalina Ponor looked like a giant out there, and she is only 5’3”. What a weird sport where you are uber-athletic and not even pint-sized.
Ms. Ponor is not unattractive, it should be noted. And since she’s 24, it’s ok to say that.
I didn’t get too bent out of shape about the tape delay of major events. NBC spent a shit-load of money to get the rights, they have to leverage the material in the best way to make their money back. From their perspective, it worked great, as they got fantastic ratings each night and apparently made money on the games. NBC hasn’t done much right, aside from Sunday Night Football, in the last 15 years, so I can’t really blame them.
What did bug me was how they treated taped events, that many viewers already knew the outcome of, as if they were live. The long, dramatic pauses while gymnasts or divers waited for the judges scores. Or at least long pauses if the competitors were either Americans or in the medal hunt. If it was just someone who was interesting but out of the running, like Ponor or one of the British gymnasts, the scores magically appeared immediately. I’m not sure it was necessary to show the entire wait for each American score. There was plenty of drama already.
When I thought more about it, I realized our generation was warped in our youth. I don’t remember the 1976 Montreal games, but people a couple years older were able to watch important events live. The 1980 Winter olympics were in the US, although the biggest event of the games was, famously, shown on tape delay. The 1984 LA games probably shaped Olympic lovers my age more than any others. And those games were wall-to-wall live events. The 1988 Winter Games were in Calgary. So in a 12 year span four of the eight games were in North America. Throw in the ’96 Atlanta games and NBC’s genius move to get the Beijing swimming finals schedule so they could be shown live in US prime time and it makes sense that so many people in their 40s are bitching about the tape delay.
I was disappointed the Ryan Seacrest somehow worked his way into the NBC broadcast team. Mostly because I’m pretty sure that guy has pictures on everyone in Hollywood and this means he’ll find a way to replace Costas in another four or eight years. I thought it was funny, though, when he offered up social media reports. That’s about right for him.
As much as I dislike Seacrest, the worst interview I saw over the two weeks was John McEnroe interviewing Usain Bolt. That really made no sense at all. More on that piece in a bit.
Beach volleyball gets all the attention, for some pretty obvious reasons, but I love the indoor game, too. I watched quite a few matches and was pleasantly surprised that Logan Tom is still playing.
As fun as she is to watch, the Brazilian women’s team is like six Logan Toms running around. If you know what I mean. Sadly I never caught a Netherlands field hockey game. I’ve heard rumors those ladies were attractive. If only there was a way to see pictures of them on my computer.
Another thing I missed, team handball. I’ve seen it in the past but didn’t get a chance to jump on the bandwagon this year.
Spending the middle weekend of the games in Kansas City made for an interesting experience. There were primary elections in both Kansas and Missouri last week, so each commercial break was absolutely flooded with political commercials. Here in Indy, we got the occasional Obama or anti-Obama ad, and one very curious ad by one of the candidates for governor here1. What we did get flooded with was health care provider ads. My wife’s employer and the other two mega-systems in the area saturated the airwaves with ads. The strange thing was many of them would repeat with a break. So there would be a St. V’s commercial, a car ad, and then the same St. V’s ad again. Odd.
Even C. noticed. When she saw an ad for a smaller organization, she exclaimed, “Really?!? They’re copying off of St. V’s.”
A series of commercials I did like: the AT&T ones that showed kids watching events from the previous night, then writing down the winning time and going back to train. Well done on multiple levels.
If you weren’t reading Joe Posnanski’s Olympic blog you were missing out on one of the great commentators of these games.
Over to the track. I was amazed that the East German women still held the world record in the 4×100 with a time set in 1985. The East Germans were the dirtiest of the dirty, but you would figure that with 20 years of better drugs, better training, better nutrition, and the quick evolution that seems to be present in elite athletes, that either the Americans or Jamaicans would have taken care of that record long ago. Kudos to the Germans! They were really on to something in their labs.
And then the Americans finally broke the record, with Carmelita Jeter’s fantastic anchor leg. Relays are always fun, especially when your team is pulling away. My all-time favorite remains the men’s 4×100 in 1992, when Dennis Mitchell handed off to Carl Lewis, threw his hands up and pointed at Lewis as he exploded down the final stretch. Jeter pointing at the clock as she clinched the world record was right up there.
I’ve been a big Allyson Felix fan since her emergence in the Athens games, so it was great to see her finally grab some golds.
Which leads me to the official B. Hottie rankings for American women in the games:
I love the shots of track athletes gathering for their events, when they have their backpacks on. Here are the elite of the elite, and they suddenly look like school kids waiting for the bus.
An area where the tape delay was handled poorly was how some field events, in the 2 1/2 minutes of coverage they got, were clearly shown out of real time. For example, a race on the track would be shown that obviously took place at night. A commercial break. Then an update on the javelin, which took place while the sun was still up. So much for continuity.
I’m still not understanding how the women’s soccer final wasn’t on NBC, especially after the epic semi-final between the US and Canada. That was one of the best games I’ve ever seen, full of momentum swings, controversial officiating, some terrible sportsmanship, and epic goal after epic goal, all topped by Morgan’s winner in the final minute of extra time. Seems like the perfect reason to switch the game over to NBC where it can get the highest ratings. As it was, the game got the highest ratings the NBC Sports Network has ever had in its short history.
Diving is kind of boring, especially since the US has kind of sucked at it since Greg Louganis retired. Which made local boy David Boudia’s cinderella story to the gold in the platform Saturday all the more enjoyable. I’ve been reading about him since he was like 14 or 15, since he grew up here. There was always the hope that he would turn into a medal contender, but it was fun to see him actually do it.
We live in the age of the backlash. Anything that happens or is said is pumped up, then the backlash comes, then the backlash to the backlash, and on until something else comes along to get people worked up. Thus it was funny to see some people get so bent out of shape about the assertion that Michael Phelps is the greatest Olympian ever. Some were acting like it was an absurd argument. Others as if it was absurd to question it.
What I don’t get is why isn’t Usain Bolt in the argument? He’s the first to ever repeat the 100/200 double and anchored two Jamaican relay golds. He’s smashed the world record in all three events along the way. Dude has redefined his sport in much the same manner that Phelps did his. His medal total may not equal Phelps’, but there’s no doubting he’s in the conversation for best ever.
The one redeeming part of the Bolt-McEnroe interview was seeing/hearing the footage of the Jamaican track trials earlier this summer when Yohan Blake beat Bolt in the 100. If you saw it, I think you will agree with me that NBC needs to ditch Tom Hammonds and Ato Boldon and bring in Jamaican announcers for the 2016 games. Those guys were awesome!
The Big Lead linked to an article in Muscle Week magazine that looked at whether sprinting is clean or not. I did not realize that, under the current guidelines, it is still possible to quadruple your testosterone levels while passing the ‘rigid’ Olympic doping tests. That’s interesting to know, and puts a bit of a damper on those who crow about the sport being clean. I mean, doesn’t Justin Gatlin look like he’s about to rage at any minute? And isn’t it weird that he’s running faster now than he did when he tested positive six years ago? I’m just saying.
Oh, and Ryan Bailey, the US anchor in the 4×100, showed how ridiculous Bolt is. Bailey was not only flying, but doing so in a free-and-easy style that recalled Lewis. And he still got flat dusted.
Dream(ish) Team. The only game I watched extensively was the gold medal game, which was ruined when the referees turned it into an NBA playoff game circa 1994 in the second quarter. There seemed to be a whistle every ten seconds. The bad part for the NBA is most of the calls were completely legit, which shows how physical/grabby the game has become and how much NBA refs have to let go to keep the best players from fouling out early. That said, the Euros need to drop the horrific flopping if they ever want to be taken seriously. There are several teams who can hang with the US now, making the ‘acting like you got shot when you barely got touched’ thing even more ridiculous.
Before the games, I was down with the idea of this being the final Olympics the NBA fully supported. It made sense to do what soccer has done and go to an Under-23 concept. Use the World Championships as the true world championship and slide the Olympics down to serve as a preparation point for each country’s next generation. As long as all the teams operate under the same roster restrictions, that will still make for a great tournament, even if teams aren’t loaded with each country’s best players.
But during the games many players from other countries complained, saying the Olympics were still very important to them. I would imagine Russia and Lithuania play fairly regularly. Players from both teams said, though, that when they play in the Olympics it means a lot more.
I’ve been swayed. Just because the United States isn’t as interested in the NBA player concept, just because we don’t completely dominate every game, doesn’t mean we should force the games to impose age restrictions. That said, I think David Stern will still get his way and the next US olympic team will feature players at the beginning of their careers rather than in their primes.
If nothing else, the tournament should shut up people who claim this year’s US team could have beaten the 1992 team. That was a dumb argument before the games, and even dumber now. Listen, this year’s team had great talent. But no one will beat a team anchored around Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan in his absolute prime.
Also, I’m sure Coach K will find a way to write another book out of this experience.
Some predicted this would be the year China caught the US in total medals. Did not happen! Suck it, China! You’re going to have to use better drugs if you want to catch is in Rio!
- The commercial is 30 seconds of the candidate, who never served in the military, talking about how great people in the military are. He never asks you to vote for him, or claims that his opponent is somehow anti-military. He just thinks the military is awesome. It was so strange it almost felt like an SNL-style parody of an ad. “America is the best. Hoosiers rule. The army is awesome. Warm spring days are the most perfect thing ever.” ↩